Q&A With Rhonda Saunders
Read this exclusive Q&A with Rhonda Saunders, the criminal prosecutor who wrote the law on stalking in California.
What led to your career change from actress to prosecutor and why the interest in stalking cases?
I always wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be able to tell stories and have an audience so that’s what I did. I got to travel all over the country and it was fabulous until things started to dry up in NY. It was then that my husband and I decided to move to California to pursue our acting careers but there wasn’t a lot of work there either.
I found out California had a community college system that was free back then and I thought well until my agent calls I might as well take some classes to keep busy. While at school I had a professor who asked me if I ever thought about being a lawyer because he thought actresses made great lawyers. At first, I thought he was crazy but the more I thought about it, it kind of made sense. After law school I was hired by a civil law firm where I sat in an office for 14-16 hours a day. It quickly dawned on me that this is not what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to court; I wanted a judge and a jury. This realization led to my transition to the District Attorney’s office.
One day I walked in during night court to a pile of files and at the top was this (stalking) case that was unbelievable. It turns out that this is the cast that inspired the Lifetime Original Movie “Stalkers.” But it wasn’t just this one case that sparked my interest in stalking cases. I went on to meet other stalking victims whose lives were destroyed by their stalkers. When you meet these victims you have to have the coldest heart to say it’s just another case. These people needed someone on their side and that is what inspired me.
Do you think tighter stalking laws need to be enforced?
I think we need longer sentencing which I haven’t been able to get – I’ve made several tries. Right now the maximum sentence is 5 years in state prison. that’s why any of the stalking cases I take I try to bring in anything I can to get higher sentencing for to keep the stalker incarcerated for as long as possible.
In what ways has social media helped or harmed how people view stalking?
In the old days parents would tell their children not to talk to strangers and now with social media people are posting pictures of their children, their friends, their house, the club they go to every week — they are actually giving the stalker information which makes their job easier. That’s why, in my opinion, social media is so dangerous. It has really made it difficult for victims to hide. On the other hand, social media has helped victims learn that they are not alone – other people are going through the same thing and there are people out there who want to help.
What are your thoughts on the cast of the Lifetime Original Movie "Stalkers"?
I am so excited about the cast. I love Drea De Matteo and when I found out Jodi Lynn O’Keefe was playing me I thought, OMG, I’m gorgeous! But what really blew my mind was Mena Suvari playing the stalker — I can’t wait for everyone to see it!
What do you want viewers to take away from the film?
3.4 million people get stalked each year in the United States—and that’s serious stalking. The Lifetime Original Movie “Stalkers” is education in a palpable form that gets the message out to people that stalking is a serious matter that is not limited to celebrities. Anyone can be stalked. So, even if someone is tuned in and they say to themselves I’m being stalked maybe I should let somebody know, that’s a great achievement. I hope a lot of people watch.
Visit Rhonda Saunder’s site, stalkingalerts.com to get more information on stalking.